Four months later – I was wrong about the Apple Watch Ultra

Four months after my first review of the Apple Watch Ultra, a lot has changed in my opinion of it; many of the problems that initially bothered me have turned out not to be so bad. At the same time, there are also functions that I thought were good, but ended up being more cumbersome than useful.

I want to set the record straight – below are six reasons why I got the Apple Watch Ultra wrong.

I was wrong about the Apple Watch Ultra

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My biggest criticism of the Apple Watch Ultra, in terms of being a sports watch, was the lack of usable navigation. Apple’s new compass with waypoints felt (and still feels) terrible to use. Especially with a watch that is more than capable of using maps and real-time routing.

My initial testing of apps capable of adding navigation to the watch left me unimpressed. The ones I used felt clunky and didn’t integrate nearly as well as it does on most other sports watches.

But long after my review, I finally found an app that solved this problem: Footpath. With Footpath, you can create, save and download offline routes and get turn-by-turn directions. And most importantly, unlike others I tried, you can use this navigation feature while tracking your workouts with other exercise apps.

This is still a little more clunky than using navigation on the Garmin, but it helps make the Apple Watch Ultra finally feel like a real sports watch.

Having footpaths in the background is a great way to add navigation to your outdoor runs/walks

Action button

The new action button is a feature I initially liked about the Apple Watch Ultra. Although it felt a bit limited in its ability to be customized, having an extra button seemed like a solid bonus for sports use.

Unfortunately, the longer I’ve used it, the more and more I dislike the Action button; I’m at the point where I prefer to have it completely disabled.

The action button’s biggest flaw is that it can only have one function set to it (which can be changed in the settings). Instead of changing functions depending on which app you’re using or which “Focus” you’ve set, the action button can only perform its one assigned task.

It means that:

  1. The action button is used very rarely
  2. Since it is used so little, it is more likely to be used accidentally than on purpose.

I wear my Apple Watches in the opposite orientation to most because when I’m strength training I don’t want my wrist to hit the buttons in extension (like when I’m doing a pushup). With with action button that means I have to disable it unless it is constantly pressed and activates the SOS alert.

If I was able to disable the action button via a “Strength Focus” setting, it wouldn’t be a big deal. But at the moment you either have to have it fully on or fully off. Given how little value it has during the day, leaving it disabled seems like the best option for me.

The action button has annoyed me to the point where I just leave it off most of the time

Habit tracking

The Apple Watch Ultra doesn’t track recovery metrics (like HRV) as well as most other high-end wearables. I’ve tried and subscribed to different apps and still haven’t found anyone to do a good job with this. The problem (in terms of HRV at least) is probably more to do with the limitations of the Apple Watch Ultra itself, rather than the apps trying to sort through the data it collects.

One thing I didn’t appreciate enough in my first review, though, is how easy and useful this watch makes habit tracking.

For example, I struggle with drinking enough water throughout the day, so I now use an app called WaterLlama to show and track my hydration right on my watch face. Looking ahead, there are dozens of well-made habit tracking apps that can make this any goal you have in mind.

The ability to constantly be reminded and effortlessly track development habits is an incredibly powerful tool. The Apple Watch (and Apple Watch Ultra) provides the best version of this tool I’ve ever used.

Lots of great habit tracking apps on the Apple Watch Ultra!

Pulse accuracy

Apple Watches are well known for their high degree of heart rate accuracy. Initially, this appeared to be no different on the Apple Watch Ultra and an additional reason why sports enthusiasts might choose it over others. After further time testing, however, it appears that heart rate accuracy is slightly worse on the Ultra than on Apple’s other watches, likely due to its larger size.

Interestingly, most sports watches tend to give too low a reading when turned off. The Apple Watch Ultra does the opposite and often gives a heart rate reading that is much higher than it actually is.

Music, calls and texts

One thing I didn’t touch on too much in my first review was the Apple Watch Ultra’s ability to make calls, text and play downloaded music/audio without a phone. While I mentioned it, I was so disappointed with the sports functionality that I didn’t really get to enjoy these “smartwatch” features that much.

The more I’ve used the Apple Watch Ultra, the more useful I’ve found all of this to be. I don’t like to run with my phone if I don’t have one too, but I often will in case of an emergency (or in many cases because I want to listen to continue listening to an audiobook). Unlike other sports watches, I can do all of this seamlessly with the Apple, and this deserves a lot more praise than I originally gave it.

Having audible on the Apple Watch is huge for me since I use it so often

Running power

Another new feature that I was initially impressed with was the addition of running power that was added to the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Ultra. While I still like that it’s been added, the more I’ve used it, the less happy I am with it.

There are several issues, from not being able to see real time power when split to getting the power drop to zero when walking, although my main issue is accuracy. Compared to other sports watches, and especially pods like the Stryd, I’ve found the power readings to be quite inaccurate when increasing the pace. Often, but not always, the reading power during spurts is significantly lower than they should be.

The running power is nice, but needs more refinement before it’s really good.

Final thoughts

After four months of use, I can definitely say that the Apple Watch Ultra is growing on me. While I still prefer a Garmin for running with navigation, and prefer a WHOOP/Oura for HRV and Recovery tracking, I find the Apple Watch Ultra best for pretty much everything else.

Buy the Apple Watch Ultra here

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